Teaching Your Child To Pray

Photo by caddy_corner (from creative commons)

When my oldest was about a year old we had some friends over for a meal. As we bowed to pray, she started going nuts, kicking, screaming, thrashing. I managed to get her calm enough to ask her what was wrong.

“No nite-nite!! NO nite-nite!!!”

I looked at my husband, “I think we might need to start praying more with her…like, more than just at bedtime.”

Thus began my odyssey in teaching my children to pray. To really pray.

I wouldn’t say I’ve “arrived” by any stretch. I have a lot to learn myself, and then figure out how to pass on to my children. But, here are a few steps we have found helpful in teaching our children to pray.

1. Fight Repetition. I’m not against memorized prayers, and that is not the focus of this post. But, for myself and my children (my type-A, first-born, just-like-mama daughter especially), our lives are dictated by routine. It is tempting for me to let my prayers become rote, or formulaic, out of laziness or superstition. Be sure to model starting and ending your prayers in different ways, just like you initiate conversations with your human relationships differently. (ex., as a child, I thought no prayer had a hope of being heard unless it ended with “In Jesus’ Name, Amen.”)

2. Anything is Fair Game. God loves us. Just as the things that are important to, or concern, our children become important to us, so it is with God. So, if my daughter wants to pray about finding her other sock, I let her. I want them to know they can talk to God about anything and everything. You can’t build a deep, meaningful relationship by only talking to a person on Christmas, Easter, and in a major crises. And hopefully, your conversations during non-structured prayer times will shepherd their little hearts to begin to echo the things that are important to Him.

3. Give Guidelines. While we are teaching our children that they can come to God with anything, we also want to help them have quality times of conversation with Him. So, taking our cue from the Lord’s Prayer, at bedtime we make sure they thank Him for at least one thing, and ask His help with/for at least one thing. They can include other things if they so desire, but we make sure these elements are included.

4. Encourage, Model and Foster Spontaneity. When we find out someone is ill, see/hear an ambulance, or see a really beautiful rainbow, we pray right then (usually eyes open, head not bowed…Gasp). Many’s the time our daughter has prayed for a friend who wasn’t at school in the car on the way home. Let them see you do this, too.

5. Watch For Answers/Listen. Take time to be still and listen for His voice. Sometimes its a good exercise for littles to just sit quietly and ponder. Then, be sure to recognize when God answers prayer! Talk about it together, thank Him, and celebrate! You can keep a simple prayer journal with the date, request, and date/way in which it was answered. I’m not that organized (understatement of the century!), so we tend to keep it verbal. Be creative and keep it in line with who you are as individuals and a family.

I hope you have found these ideas helpful, and that as you pray for and with your children He guides you all into a deeper friendship with Himself.

What ways have you found helpful in teaching your children to pray?

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  1. says

    Love this Jennifer! I find it so important to model as you said- my kid’s aren’t going to naturally pray if I don’t. I love the spontaneity of their prayers!

    • Jennifer says

      Yes….so much of motherhood is modeling….and I feel I fall short of the mark so often. But thankful for grace!!

  2. says

    Thanks for this post – i know that my kids learn through my behavior, but is nice to be reminded, and given a “step-by-step” setup for mommies, because even when I know, it’s nice to see it written.

    • Jennifer says

      I know what you mean! Even though I know there’s no formula for raising great kids, it’s nice to know what works – or doesn’t work – for other people. And nice to have a starting point!

  3. Danielle Cooper says

    This is so important – great post!!! I have a four year old and eighteen month old. My younger will follow our lead, bowing her head, folding her arms and whispering little babbles. It is the most adorable thingto watch!!

  4. Alexis says

    We are first generation Christian parents and I really was not sure how I was going to model this for our kids… Thanks for the encouragement. Question… what do you do when the kids ‘act up’ during a prayer…? Sometimes at mealtime we get “Nnnnnnnnno prayer!” or she (a 2 year old) squeals through it… at bedtime sometimes she can get jumpy or interupt the bedtime prayer… I don’t want to discipline her and make it a negative experience but also want to encourage her to respect this time…. she is only two but I really don’t know how to handle this. Thanks!

    • Jennifer says

      Great question!! When our kids were 2, we just had quick, simple prayers. So, meals was. “Thank you God for our food. Amen.” :) bedtime was the same. At that age, I pick the things to say thank you for if they are not quite in the mood. So I might say, “thank you God for Hannah. Thank you that she was able to see her friends today. Help her to be a good friend and have sweet dreams tonight.”

      Now, our oldest, who is 7, is going through a phase where she doesn’t want to pray. Usually, if they say they don’t want to, I don’t force it. We all have quiet days, you know? But this was going on for over a week. So I talked with her about how she would feel if I only ever talked to her one time a day for a minute, and always said the same thing each time, then walked away before she could respond. We talked about thinking about what kind of friendship she wants to develop with God, and if she wants a good, interesting, loving one, she needs to put time and thought into it just like she does for her human friends.

      It can definitely be a struggle trying to find the balance in it. But, at 2 yeas old, I would stick with gentle encouragement, try not to pay too much mind to it (it could be an attention thing). You might even say, “I know you’re hungry, but God provided this food for us, so we need to be sure to say thank you for it.”

      You’re doing a great job, mama!! And I’m so excited for your family!

      • Jennifer says

        Oh, I meant to say, too, I would just ignore the squealing. Now, if she was 5 and still squealing, then yeah…. But she’ll grow out of that.

      • Mary Lynn says

        Thank you so much for this!! I have been struggling with this with my just turned 3 year old. I searched on pinterest “how to pray” & your article & Alexis’ question & your answer is exactly what I needed, thank you so much!!!

  5. says

    We recently put up a prayer board in our home, like a memo board with people to pray for. I encourage my two older kids (6 and 4) to choose one person off the board to pray for each evening. It has really helped give my kids’ prayers more depth. Instead of selfish prayers, they are praying for others. We also give each child a chance to add a prayer at dinner – sometimes they are silly, sometimes serious. My 2 year old gets a turn too, and she always mumbles some gibberish.

  6. Alli says

    I liked this post a lot. Thanks for sharing. =) It’s encouraging to read about parenting from other Christian moms. We’ve always prayed at dinner and bedtime. But, you’re right about repetition. My 2 year old used to scream, “No Jesus!” when we’d start praying together at bedtime. I realized shortly after he went to sleep one night that he was protesting bedtime, not Jesus. We talked to him about it, and also started incorporating more prayer into our daily lives. Just like you mentioned your family did. =) We’ve started asking our kids if they have prayer requests. Sometimes, they warm your heart and you realize how sincere their hearts are. Their hearts are untainted and I believe they are more in tuned to God’s voice that most adults. My older son, age 4, loves to play guitar. He goes in his room and sings songs to God. He makes up all the words, and sings at the top of his lungs. This is his own form of prayer and communication with the Lord. I’ve tried so many times to video tape one of his prayer song sessions. But, it never works out. Perhaps because the Lord is telling me to leave those sacred moments along.

    What I took out of your post was a lot of encouragement, and the reassurance that I’m doing okay in this parenting thing. =) I also realized that I do not point out how our prayers were answered. This is something I am going to add to my everyday. Not only for my children, but for myself and hubby. =) Thanks again!

    • Jennifer says

      Alli, I love your thoughts!! Thank you so much for sharing them! How cool that he had his own worship times! My 5 y/o walks around the house singing “I live you, Jesus” over and over. If she realizes one of us is listening she stops. Ha!!

  7. Jennifer says

    I’m so glad this helped you!! I love hearing from other mamas with the same heart for our kids!

  8. Countryluvr17 says

    I love this!! I’m not a mom yet- not even close- but I babysit for a family all the time and the three kids feel just like mine. This will certainly help me pray with them and teach me how to pray for children whenever God chooses to bless me with them. Thank you!!

    • Jennifer says

      Wonderful!!! I’m so glad this helped you, and I’m so glad you are finding ways to use these ideas even before you have kiddos of your own!

  9. Harmonystardust says

    Just googled “How can I get my 4 year old to like prayer” and this came up! Great thoughts! I especially love the idea of choosing one thing to be thankful for and one thing she needs
    help with! Gonna try that tonight:)

    Thank u!

  10. Harmonystardust says

    Just googled “How can I get my 4 year old to like prayer” and this came up! Great thoughts! I especially love the idea of choosing one thing to be thankful for and one thing she needs
    help with! Gonna try that tonight:)

    Thank u!

  11. says

    This is super encouraging – thank you!! My lil’ guy is almost 2, and I’m excited (and petrified) to be able to coach and instruct and model prayer with and for him, now and as he gets older. This is really great, practical, helpful stuff. :)

  12. says

    My 20 month old just started copying us at meal time. She speaks well so it’s super cute to hear her copy daddy praying. After the “Amen” every time she says “And now we eat!”. We keep them short and simple “Thank you God, for these pancakes with chocolate chips! Amen”
    I have been wanting to incorperate prayer into the rest of our daily lives too so I love your suggestions above. Thanks so much, I just discovered this blog and am so glad I did.

  13. Tracy says

    . My three teens, four year old, and myself are still trying to find our way, so to speak. It was a year ago that I asked Jesus into my heart. My children are slowly drawing closer with discussions and the willingness to not miss a day of church. I think this article is great for any new Christian! Many of these ideas can be used for myself and my teens. Thank you, I really needed this article to realize where I need to step in and show them how it all connects, that God is always reachable. We need to have more prayer in our family and incorporate HIM into our everyday life more! This will be a great and simple start! I also like the prayer board, what a great way to teach children to think of others! Any more ideas for my teens would be greatly appreciated.

    Thank you!

    • Jennifer D. says

      Hello, and welcome to the Family! For your teens, if they are reluctant to talk with you directly a lot maybe try encouraging them to start a prayer journal. Like a diary but they are writing their prayers down. That way they can date it and keep track of when the answers come, etc. Also maybe try asking them to be in charge of planning family prayer time once a week where they get to decide the when, where and how. Sometimes having a bit of ownership over it will help them to be more open to it.

  14. Lindsey Whitney says

    What a funny story! I agree — sometimes I forget the random prayers throughout the day and save all the “real” praying for at night. Good reminder.

  15. Kristi D says

    Thank you for this post! I shared it on my blog today, b/c it’s a really important part of our lifestyle too! Kristi of Klover House

  16. Lori J says

    Yay for this post! And actually the responses as well. I was wondering how to really incorporate prayer into our lives more openly and now my oldest is 2.5 and he is talking and interacting so well now and wanted to start teaching him more about Jesus and praying with him. I listen to only Christian music in the car but he doesn’t understand that I’m sure. And he isn’t very patient with the books. He does go to a Christian daycare as well but I want prayer to be a focus and wasn’t sure how to go about it. This was so helpful thanks so much!


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